Finding some peace

Bonny Diver, right, with Doug Oster, one of 20 local celebrities who will be serving their favorite dishes at Hair Peace Charities’ Recipe for Hope fundraiser.

“You have cancer.”

Three devastating words.

Pittsburgh radio personality Bonny Diver feared the worst when she heard them 20 years ago.

“I was 46 and I thought I was way too young to have cancer,” she said. “When you hear the word cancer you think you’re going to die because people die from cancer.”

Diver was stunned to learn that a lump she found in her breast was cancerous, but soon realized cancer can be treated and that a greater good could come from her diagnosis.

She started discussing the importance of early detection on her radio show, then, upon the urging of doctors, founded Hair Peace Charities, to provide cancer fighting information, encouragement and support groups, and to help purchase wigs for women and girls fighting all types of cancer in western Pennsylvania. Cancer treatment can be expensive, with health care co-pays and loss of work. Most insurance companies do not pay for wigs for women undergoing chemotherapy.

“Here I am 20 years later, and Hair Peace is going strong. It’s something I never dreamed I would do, but I’m really happy to be able to do it,” Diver said.

More than 500 women received help from Hair Peace in 2022 and more requests are coming in.

Leslie Gingo, Virginia Manor, is a clinical pharmacist on the oncology floor at UPMC  Magee-Womens Hospital. Chris Needles, Mission Hills, and Shelly Hayes are both nannies in Mt. Lebanon. They all received Bonny Diver’s support after their cancer diagnoses.

Needles, who raised her four children in Mt. Lebanon, is happy to help raise other children in the place she’s called home for 38 years.

She connected with Diver and Hair Peace Charities in 2006, two years after her initial breast cancer diagnosis. A year later, she was diagnosed metastatic. “When I had my re-diagnosis, I didn’t need any monetary help from Hair Peace, just the support that Bonny gives other women. It’s phenomenal,” Needles said.

With her positive outlook on life, Needles thought she didn’t need a support group, but adds “support really means a lot, even to somebody who doesn’t think they need it.”

Hayes became close friends with Diver after their first conversation. She was going through chemotherapy at the time. “This was 2013 and I was having trouble dealing with it. It was very hard for people in my friend circle, who had not experienced something like this, to understand,” Hayes said.

Hayes helps out with various Hair Peace fundraisers, as a thank-you for the help she received obtaining a wig. “It’s like a warm hug. It really does help to have someone guide you through; from the beginning all the way to the end of your treatments and farther, because it’s always there,” she added.

Gingo felt very alone when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer at 40. Her kids were young then, and she didn’t want to “look scary to them.” That’s when she decided she needed a wig. “For me that was actually probably the hardest part of going through treatment. I felt like I didn’t recognize myself anymore,” she said. Five-and-a-half years later, Gingo continues donating to Hair Peace Charities after getting a wig with Diver’s help. “She’s wonderful,”
Gingo added.

In most circumstances, hair loss starts about two weeks after the first chemo treatment, and can make a woman feel vulnerable and lose self-esteem.

Deciding to wear a wig, choosing one, then learning how to care for it can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s where Hair Peace comes in. The organization works with experienced salon professionals, sensitive to a woman’s needs at such a vulnerable time.

Gingo sums it up: “When I was sick, I realized that I wanted to take care of patients with cancer in a more meaningful way. I found out about my current job at Magee while I had no hair. Having the wig gave me the courage to apply for the position and go for the interview. I ended up getting my dream job, all because I felt normal enough to go in front of people that I didn’t know to do the interview.”

If you or someone you know needs financial assistance for the purchase of a wig, call Diver at 412-327-5177. Determination of assistance needed, along with a list of supporting salons, will be provided.

The 18th Annual Recipe For Hope fundraiser supporting Hair Peace Charities is on Friday, November 3, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at The Mayernik Center at Avonworth Park. Twenty TV and radio celebrities, plus Mt. Lebanon Magazine’s Doug Oster, don aprons and serve their favorite dishes.